A front leg vise is a clamping vise with a long vertical jaw parallel to one of the legs of the workbench. It’s a “gadget” that makes antique carpenter’s benches look even more nice and amazing.
But other than that, and the curiosity I’ve always felt about these front leg vises, I never thought of installing one on my workbench. Also, I already have two workbench vices: a homemade vice plus another one that I removed from another workbench to install on my worktable. But now that I have made this front leg vise I can see how useful it is, as it allows me to comfortably clamp long planks, and the wood clamp area has more vertical clearance for clamping wider boards.
▷ How to make the wooden jaw.
To make the wooden jaw of this front leg vise I will use a piece of pine wood 145mm wide by 70mm thick. I put the piece in front of one of the legs of my workbench and I measure the length I need.
I cut the wooden clamp to the length I just marked, and at the top I cut a decorative bevel that will also prevent me from hitting the corners that the wood jaw would have there.
I reinforce the wooden jaw by gluing a couple of pieces of sapele wood. And with a wooden block I extend the fixed jaw on the side of the workbench.
▷ How to prepare the metallic clamp to make the vise screw.
Now, first of all, I’m going to prepare the metal woodworking clamp. So with a hammer I hit the inside of the fixed jaw until I get it to loosen. I have to hit carefully, lest the hammer slip out and hit my legs.
I have to modify the hole of the fixed jaw. What I’m going to do is enlarge the hole a bit so that the metal bar slides in smoothly. And I’m also going to give it some inclination. As you can see in the picture, I drew it on the paper that I sticked on the metallic jaw. This will ensure that when the metal bar is pulled back, it grips the metallic jaw and locks in place.
It is time to use the file and patiently file to give it the necessary size and shape. As I said, I have to modify the hole, so that the metal bar of the clamp slides but also locks when necessary.
In addition, the metal bar of the clamp has to pass through this wooden jaw and through the leg of the workbench. Then, after feeling about and measuring the position where I need to put the metal clamp, I use the drill to drill the holes in the wooden clamp and in the leg of the workbench.
▷ How to make the parallel guide to keep the wood jaw parallelism
In the front leg vises of the woodworking benches, it is necessary to use some system that allows to keep the wood clamp vertical and parallel to the leg of the woodworking bench. This system must be adjustable according to the thickness of the wood that needs to be clamped with the front leg vise.
To keep the wood jaw parallel to the workbench leg, one option is to use adjustable guides. Typically, a pin board is used, the position of which is adjusted with a wooden dowel depending on the thick of the piece of wood to be clamped. I am going to use a pair of boards 390mm long by 70mm wide and 18mm thick in which I drill, with the help of the drill press, two rows of alternating 15mm diameter holes.
To install the adjustable parallel guides, I need to cut a couple of recesses in the bottom of the wood jaw, so that when the adjustable guides are screwed in, the gap between them is equal to the thickness of the leg of the workbench.
▷ How to install the front leg vise.
To install the front leg vise on the woodworking bench, I have to put behind the workbench leg what used to be the fixed jaw of the metal clamp. So I put that metal jaw behind the wooden leg, making sure that in that position it will bite into the bar of the metallic clamp. And I surround it with 1cm plywood strips to keep it in place.
And now the trick so that the metal jaw does not fall backwards, but is easy to put on and take off, is to use a simple L shaped screw hook to hold it. I will then be able to easily retrieve the metal woodworking clamp, to continue using it as a normal clamp whenever I need it.
More about woodworking clamps and vises.
▷ How to improve the front tightening screw.
So far this front leg vise works quite well, and thanks to the adjustable parallel guide it stays parallel when it clamps any workpiece. But when I am adjusting it to clamp a workpiece it does not move smoothly and parallel to the leg of the carpenter’s bench. And although it does tighten well, you have to wrestle a bit with the clamp to get it in place and tighten the screw. That’s why now I going to make some improvements that will make it work much better.
▷ How to improve the movement of the wood front leg vice.
To improve the movement of the wooden clamp jaw, I am going to make the pinboards that I use as adjustable parallel guides fit between small casters. Therefore, I start by putting four casters around the leg of the bench.
The problem is that, by putting the casters around the leg, the front leg wooden jaw is now too long and protrudes above the workbench surface. So I disassemble the adjustable pin board guide, I cut the wood jaw with my table jigsaw table, and I reinstall the adjustable parallel guide.
See how to make my homemade jigsaw table.
And I can now install another set of casters on top of the pinboard parallel guide. In this way I get the wooden clamp jaw to slide easily and parallel to the workbench leg.
▷ How to improve metallic clamp performance.
One of the problems with the metal clamp jaw is that sometimes the metallic bar does not grip the metallic jaw well behind the wooden leg. But it can be solved by putting a screw that protrudes a little just below the upper end of the metallic jaw of the bar clamp. This way I get it to tilt slightly backwards and so it bites more easily into the metal bar.
Another problem is that the sliding jaw of the metallic clamp can slide along the metallic bar. And it would be better if it stayed fixed at that end of the metal bar. To fix this I simply drill a small hole in the metal bar, and lock the sliding jaw with a screw. So now when I grab the clamp handle and I push it forward or pull it back, the metal bar will move with it as one piece.
▷ How to make a dead man pin board for the front leg vise
That system for supporting long pieces of wood (the pinboard) is usually called, if I am not too much mistaken, dead man. And it is that other pin board which we see in the middle of the side in the work benches that have a front leg vise screw installed. Then, I cut a board to the required length, and in the drill press I drill two rows of alternate holes in it.
To install this pin board I was thinking of a system that would allow me to slide it along the side of the woodworking bench (to make a sliding dead man), but in the end I decided to leave it fixed and more or less centered. I drilled pocket holes in the four corners of the pin board, and put in some hidden screws.
With this system, now I only have to put a wooden dowel in the hole at the height I need, and I can easily hold there the longer planks and boards and clamp them with the wooden leg vise clamp. We can also see in the picture the wooden pin, in the adjustable parallel guide, at the bottom of the clamp.
The holes in this pin board are alternate, but at the top I left two holes at the same height. This way I can put two dowels and an horizontal wooden block on top of them. With this simple trick I can clamp the narrower wood planks, so that the top edge is above the surface of the workbench.
The need to drill holes all the way to the bottom of the pin boar is so I can clamp planks at any angle. This is very useful when working on the head of the long planks and long wooden strips, for example to cut them a tenon in one end.
And here I have my front leg vise made with a metallic bar clamp. A great improvement to my homemade workbench that I think will be very useful.
Homemade workbench vise made from scraps I found in the workshop.